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Five Points neighbors take housing outreach into their own hands

Every Wednesday, the Five Points Housing Outreach Team meets at Sonny Lawson Park to clean up the area and engage with their neighbors experiencing homelessness.

DENVER, Colorado — Every week, a group living in Five Points meets at Sonny Lawson park to care for the area and provide outreach and services to their neighbors experiencing homelessness. 

The volunteers are with the Five Points Housing Outreach Team.

"Our intent is to try to come up with solutions to help people solve this housing crisis. How can we get people out of tents and into housing," said John Hayden, a volunteer and Curtis Park resident of 26 years.

Hayden and the other volunteers wear neon vests to identify themselves and carry buckets to collect trash.

In addition to brainstorming solutions for Denver's housing crisis, the group works to beautify Sonny Lawson Park for all neighbors to enjoy.

"We think that taking care of the park where people are living or near where they’re living is important because the condition of the space where you live has a very real impact on your mental and physical health," Hayden said.

RELATED: Denver moves forward with plans for new homeless shelter near I-70, Colorado Blvd

Jeff Baker, president of Curtis Park Neighbors, said the goal isn't to kick those experiencing homelessness out of the neighborhood. 

In late July, 9NEWS spoke with Gerald Horner who said Curtis Park neighbors supported recent action by the city to clear out homeless camps at 22nd and Stout streets citing health and safety concerns.

RELATED: Police and protesters clash at homeless camp sweep

Credit: KUSA
Jeff Baker, President of Curtis Park Neighbors, cleans up the garden near Sonny Lawson Park.

But Horner and the group knows sweeps aren't the solution.

Baker said they often result in service providers losing track of individuals with whom they have sometimes spent weeks or months building a rapport. 

"That’s a breakdown in the system of trying to move people into housing and get them off the streets," Baker said.  

Each Wednesday, as they clean, the Five Points Housing Outreach Team engages with their neighbors and lets them know they are welcome. 

"I thank them because they’re including us as part of the community. That’s what we want," said Joseph, a resident of the encampment near Sonny Lawson Park who only wanted to be identified by his first name.

Joseph and the volunteers have been working together for months to keep the area clean and provide services to those who want or need them whether they involve housing inquiries or requests for everyday items.

"Trash bags, they bring water, some neighbors bring food. They asked me what else they need and they try to get it for us," Joseph said.

As a temporary solution to the housing crisis, the outreach team supports the city's Safe Outdoor Space proposal which would establish "temporary, managed campsites." 

RELATED: Denver hopes to open first sanctioned homeless encampment next month

The neighbors welcome one of these camps in their area but would like to see all neighborhoods take part in the solution as well.

"The whole city does have to help and take equity of this. It can’t all just be one area. If it’s spread out and everybody takes a little slice of the pie, it will help," Baker said.

In July, the city said it would dedicate more resources to those experiencing homelessness. 

Mayor Michael Hancock directed outreach, healthcare and mental-health workers to intensify their visits to encampments. 

The city also promised to "increase efforts to clean encampments with more frequent trash pickup and used-needle collection."

RELATED: Boulder says buckets of feces, remnants of methamphetamine removed during homeless camp cleanup

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